Fire Officials Warn Parents About Dangerous Social Media Stunt

ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Fire safety officials are warning parents about a dangerous social media challenge that they believe recently resulted in severe burns to an 11-year-old girl in Florida.

In what is called the “fire challenge,” youngsters have been posting videos of themselves to social media sites pouring flammable liquid on their skin and then lighting the liquid on fire.

The first-known “fire challenge” video was uploaded to Youtube in 2012. Since then, the stunts have led to more than half-dozen serious injuries to youngsters around the country.

Fire officials say an 11-year-old St. Petersburg girl may be among the latest victims of the dangerous social media trend.

Deputy Fire Marshal Lt. Steve Lawrence of the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue said officials believe Gianne Gilpin attempted the “fire challenge” Jan. 4 in the bedroom of her home on 36th Street South. The fire quickly got out of control and spread through the house, authorities said.

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Gilpin was taken to Tampa General Hospital’s burn unit for treatment of second-degree burns on her stomach, chest, thighs and hands.

“Luckily, no one else was hurt, but my sister is facing a long, painful road to recovery,” said Gilpin’s sister, Monessia Rhoden. “The fire resulted in a complete loss, and my family is facing the task of piecing their lives back together.”

Rhoden has set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations for her family.

“This was possibly related to what they’re calling a ‘fire challenge,'” Lawrence said. “That’s when an individual pours a flammable liquid, possibly rubbing alcohol, onto their skin and body and then ignite it. Part of the challenge is they’re supposed to record it.”

Lawrence said the stunt can turn tragic quickly.

“In the videos, they’re putting it on their chest and clothing,” he said. “Now the clothing in itself will absorb that flammable liquid … , and you can’t get it off of you. All of a sudden, you become a big ball of fire.”

The National Fire Protection Association said nail polish remover and hand sanitizer also have been used in the stunt.

The association has issued a warning to parents with the following tips:

• Become informed on the warning signs and risks of this activity. Have a conversation with teens about the impact of burn injuries and participating in unreasonable risks.
• Monitor teens’ use of social media. Outlets such as Instagram, YouTube and Facebook cause the latest trends to travel at lightning speed. Additionally, the validation from “likes,” “views” and comments from followers can provide a hefty social reward for those who post photos and videos.
• Recognize that the young brain (up to about age 25) is under construction. As a result, adolescents do not process rewards and risks the same way as adults do. The teen brain tends to weigh rewards much more heavily than risks.
• Be involved with teens. It is developmentally important for teens to seek independence, but input from and interaction with adults are still important during this time.
• Model healthy risk-taking and thrill-seeking.
• Provide opportunities for teens to channel thrill-seeking behaviors in healthy ways. These opportunities can be physical activities such as obstacle courses, kayaking, mud runs, hiking, zip lining and neighborhood games of manhunt. Some teens may find excitement in acting in a theater company, performing in a talent or improv show, visiting an amusement park, running in an election or joining a campaign committee. Encourage kids to be silly but safe.
• Flag dangerous YouTube videos: YouTube has a set of Community Guidelines for posting videos. They do remove posts that cross the limits of “Dangerous Illegal Acts” and posts that are “Shocking and Disgusting.” However, YouTube relies on the viewers to flag items that cross the lines. Click on the flag icon under the number of views to send a warning to YouTube.

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